Obviously, you'll want to complete this checklist before starting any items in this post (or even before getting engaged, if possible!). But after the question has been popped, there are some things you should get started on fairly early if you want to have a stress-free planning process.
I've labeled this the "9-16 Months" checklist because I read somewhere the average engagement is 16 months long, but I know not everyone has the benefit (or curse, depending on your perspective) of a long engagement. Ultimately, I think these are the 10 wedding-planning items you should do first to avoid scheduling conflicts, set clear expectations and reduce stress, regardless of the length of your engagement.
1. Figure out your budget. Everything else on this list pretty much depends on this biggie: How much money do you have for your wedding? More importantly, how much do you want to spend? Now is also the time to figure out how much money (if any) your parents or other parties are planning to contribute, so you can all have the same expectations heading into the planning process.
2. Define your priorities. My then-fiance and I made two lists, independently from one another: Things we really cared about regarding our wedding, and things we could not care less about. (For example, I really cared about the photographer, but I could not have cared less about the wedding cake.) We then compared lists. This helped prevent arguments because we knew what was important to one another and also what we could hand over the reins on (for example, Jonathan wanted a video and I didn't really care, so he took charge of finding a videographer).
3. Choose a date. You might not be able to choose a date until you have determined when your venue is available (or photographer, or any other vendor that you really have to have), but it helps to at least narrow it down to a season or a month. For example, I always knew I wanted a fall wedding, so even in the early days when we didn't have a date set, we could at least tell people, "We'll get married in fall 2014." Because trust me—people will ask! All the time!
4. Start drafting your guest list. This is really important for three reasons: (1) Deciding who to invite is possibly the most stressful part of the whole process (or it was for us, at least). (2) Your number of expected guests will affect which venues you can consider and your budget. (3) At least having an idea of who you're going to invite can help you handle possibly awkward conversations (e.g. when Great Aunt Clarisse whom you haven't seen in 30 years calls you up and starts talking about the wedding, you'll know not to say, "We can't wait to see you there!" if she's not on the guest list).
5. Choose a venue. This is high on the list because wedding venues book up quickly; it's unbelievable! (At least in our area.) We booked our venue 14 months before our wedding, and there was only one Saturday still available in our desired timeframe (September or October).
6. Find and book a photographer and/or videographer. Same as above: We booked our photographer a full year before our wedding, and we snagged her last October opening. Photography is really important for most brides ("It's the only thing you'll have forever!" ... except the marriage of course), so don't limit yourself unnecessarily by waiting until the last minute. Booking your photographer early will also enable you to schedule your engagement shoot with plenty of time to design save-the-dates, spam social media with your adorableness, etc. Also, ask your photographer if there are any awesome videographers he or she has worked with (or vice versa). We chose a team that had worked together before, and it was apparent!
7. Ask your bridal party and other VIPs to participate in your wedding. These people are important to you! Make sure you give them plenty of advance notice so they can block out that weekend for you and the festivities. Don't forget about ushers, greeters and/or people you want to participate in the ceremony itself (readers, etc.).
8. Begin any religious preparations as needed. We're Catholic, so we had to do a decent amount of paperwork with our church and attend a weekend-long "Engaged Encounter" before we got married. Plus, we were getting married in a different diocese than where we lived, so our church we attend had to process and send everything to the church where we were actually getting married. Long story short, we ended up having to drive two hours to the church where we were getting married and redo all our marriage preparation requirements a month before the wedding because the office staff at the church we attend did not have all their ducks in a row. If we hadn't started the process so early (10 months before the wedding), we may not have had time to fix the issue, and then we wouldn't have been able to get married as planned! We also wanted to bring in Jonathan's priest from his college parish to perform our Mass, so we had to arrange that ahead of time with both dioceses and make travel arrangements.
9. Begin shopping for your wedding dress. Again, if you wait too long for this item, your options will be severely limited. I ordered my dress at a trunk show in early November, and it didn't arrive until late April. Remember you'll also need time to have alterations done before the wedding day.
10. Find and book a DJ or band. This may depend on your area, but like photographers and other wedding services, DJs can book up quickly! Even if you're not ready to book a DJ this early in the planning stage, it's worth at least looking into it.
Don't forget: No matter what, your upcoming marriage is waaaaay more important than your actual wedding day. Just focus on having fun, preparing for a life together and throwing a great party, and all the details will work themselves out in the end. (And if they don't, chances are no one will notice but you and the groom.) That being said, planning ahead can save you some unnecessary stress. :)
What planning items did I miss? What were some of the first things you planned when you were engaged (or what do you think will be most important to you when the day comes)?
Photograph by Kori & Jared Photography at Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards in Saratoga, California.
Linking up with Meg and Macy for Wedding Wednesday, Ash for Two for Tuesdays, and Nicole for Treat Yo'Self Thursday.